A little dose of confidence – even gleaned during a defeat – can go a long way.
Just ask the Clemson University men’s basketball team.
The Tigers opened the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of their schedule with an 11-point loss at No. 2 North Carolina, but generated a performance that Jaron Blossomgame said gave the Tigers “a chance to win.”
Clemson has maintained that positive vibe and hasn’t lost since, reeling off five consecutive victories – including three straight against Top 25 opponents for the first time in school history – and now finds itself in an unfamiliar position.
The Tigers are nipping at the Tar Heels’ heels, perched just a half-game behind North Carolina in the league standings, and are on the cusp of breaking into both major polls. Clemson is just two spots out of the rankings in the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll and the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday.
Confidence has helped land the Tigers in position to crack the polls for the first time since 2010.
“That has taken this team to where it is right now,” said Blossomgame, a junior forward who was selected ACC Player of the Week after averaging 21 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in two games last week. “The sky’s the limit for this team.”
The Tigers (12-6 overall and 5-1 in the ACC) haven’t lost in 2016, and will put that streak on the line tonight against yet another ranked opponent – No. 13 Virginia (13-4, 2-3).
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the Cavaliers are 8-0 this season. Virginia has lost three of its past four games, all on the road.
“That team is going to right the ship and get themselves going again,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “They’ve got good players and good coaching. They’re too good not to figure some things out. We all have trouble during a long season.”
Clemson, which was picked to finish 12th among the 15 teams in the ACC preseason poll, is in the midst of a rare stretch of five consecutive games against ranked opponents. Virginia, the ACC’s defending regular-season champion, will be the fourth of the stretch, which culminates with a Jan. 27 game against No. 20 Pittsburgh at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, where the Tigers are 10-2 this season.